Match Recap

LAFC Youth Movement + One “Old Fox” Propels Black & Gold Forward In U.S. Open Cup


It wasn’t an MLS Cup final watched by millions, nor was it a CONCACAF Champions League match with the Western Hemisphere’s eyes upon it. No, this game took place in front of about 6,000 fans at a small, recently-constructed stadium abutting the dunes of Monterey Bay. When it finally ended, more than two hours of frenetic soccer had been played, twelve penalty kicks had been taken, and LAFC had advanced past Monterey Bay FC and into the Round of 16 in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

It wasn’t an LAFC starting 11 with which the club’s fans were familiar. Head coach Steve Cherundolo—his first team immersed in a grueling calendar of multiple games within various competitions--fielded a lineup on Tuesday night that featured eight teenagers, two players in their 20’s, and Eldin Jakupovic, the senior team’s backup goalkeeper, who will turn 40 next year. The performance that those players (and LAFC’s four substitutes, none older than 19) turned in together was at times spotty and disorganized, at other times clever and clinical—and at every moment gritty and resolute.


The scorebook will show a 2-2 draw that was decided on penalty kicks, but the deeper story that unfurled on that windy pitch in northern California had more to do with the next generation of talent at LAFC, and the six-year-old club’s ethos of competing until the final whistle.

“I’m just really proud of the boys,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said. “They played in a disciplined manner. They fought with everything they had and they stayed cool in the end. They wore the LAFC jersey very well tonight and we are super proud of them.”

The scoring began in the 25th minute, when 19-year-old LAFC midfielder Christopher Jaime jumped on an errant ball deep in Monterey Bay’s half and slotted a pass down the right wing toward a streaking Christian Torres (also 19) who drove it into the goal’s lower right corner.

Torres’ goal, the second of his career for the senior team and his first since 2020, was one of few interruptions in Monterey Bay’s possession-heavy first half, during which the USL Championship side held the ball for roughly 70 percent of the game’s opening 45 minutes.


That trend continued well into the second half, when LAFC’s youngsters began showing the first hints of fatigue—along with their inexperience in the subtle arts of closing out a one-nil game. Veteran substitute Simon Dawkins scored for Monterey Bay in the 90th minute, sending the game toward 30 minutes of extra time. Four minutes into the first 15-minute added period, MBFC forward Jesse Maldonado beat Jakupovic to put MBFC ahead 2-1. The strange tale of the gutty underdogs whose team was actually a heavy favorite, appeared to have ended. This hidden gem of a football match, which pitted ten field players (average age 19.6) against a squad of seasoned professionals (average age 27) would end the way most observers would have predicted; and Cherundolo’s choice to prioritize LAFC’s rigorous MLS schedule and its preparations for the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League final, would be deemed the right choice, even if it resulted in an early exit from the US Open Cup.  

But among LAFC’s late substitutes was 18-year-old Brazilian forward Matheus Maia, who in the 105th minute capped off a rapid and ruthless buildup along the right flank by receiving a final ball from Danny Crisostomo and driving it past Monterey Bay keeper Antony Siaha for the equalizer.


In the penalty shootout that followed, Siaha stopped Crisostomo’s attempt. Jakupovic – veteran of the English Premier League and UEFA European Championships – returned the favor by denying Monterey Bay’s fourth try from the spot. As if the game hadn’t already seen enough twists, Jakupovic then grabbed a ball himself, placed it on the mark, and roofed it past Siaha to help extend the shootout past five kicks per side.

“He’s an old fox this guy,” Cherundolo said of Jakupovic. “He did fantastic in goal. He was there for the boys when we needed him - especially in the penalty shootout.”


In the end, MBFC’s Mobi Fehr needed to beat Jakupovic to keep his team’s US Open Cup hopes alive, but the 6-foot-4 Jakupovic, who had signed with LAFC just four months previous and was twice as old as most of the teammates who had started the game with him, leapt to his left, parried Fehr’s effort away, then did a jig along the end line and sprinted down the pitch as if he were the youngest player on the field instead of the eldest. Skinny teenagers leapt on him like toddlers tussling with their father in the backyard.

It was a fitting image to cap off a night that began with an unexpected starting lineup and tempered expectations.

It was an appropriate end to one of the most improbable and stirring victories in LAFC’s brief existence.

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